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Simone Cohen Scott

Pushing at the Wrong Door: a quick study of Roger Waters' political bias

by Simone Cohen Scott, Nov 9, 2017



Until a couple of weeks ago I hadn't given Roger Waters a thought.  I vaguely knew who he was.  Then I learned that a documentary film entitled “Wish You Weren't Here”, was going to be shown in cities across Canada, under the auspices of B'nai Brith, wherever this Roger Waters would be giving a concert.  So who is Roger Waters, and why the film?  Well, he's a British singer and songwriter, he plays the bass, and he was one of the founders of 'Pink Floyd', a rock band I HAD heard of, but wouldn't know from any of the others of the 60s, 70s, and 80s.  So Roger Waters today, somewhat long in the tooth, seems to still be the star he was when he was breaking ground with psychedelic rock (also known as 'acid rock'), doing tours and producing what used to be called albums.  Once I mentioned his name I found people in my life who were fans.  Unbeknownst to me my daughter had gone to a Pink Floyd concert in the late 80s.  Or get this: A fellow I know was practically delirious with joy because he got a ticket to the current concert, for which he paid $275.  (He scrambles for rent money each month.)


It was Michael Mostyn, CEO of B'nai Brith Canada, who came up with the idea to follow Roger Waters from city to city on his Canadian tour. Dogging Waters' performances with this doc is drawing attention to his activism against Israel. Waters is a proponent of BDS, i.e. boycott, divestment, sanctions.  The subject of Israel under attack would garner far less attention were it not connected to the concert.  The film provides a trigger point for thinking about and discussing the ease with which toxic narratives are spread. (Picketers at both events held signs accusing Israel of something or other.)  Particularly alarming is the gullibility of celebrities who can influence a large fan base.  To this group falls the greater responsibility.  They would be wise to leave politics alone, rather than find out too late they have foolishly fought on the wrong side.


The film is the brainchild of Ian Halperin, a Canadian investigative journalist, #1New York Times best-selling author and documentary filmmaker, a winner of Rolling Stone magazine Award for Investigative Journalism. He is the child of Holocaust survivors. When he became sickened by the imbalance between misinformation and truth in what passes for news about Israel, he decided to shine a bright light on at least one aspect of the battle, namely prominent celebrities who hold sway over sold out auditoriums full of people in ultra-receptive states of mind. While the focus is on Waters, the film gives an overview of various proponents of the ideology that claims Israel is villainous in every way, and balances it with insights of others who look deeper into this specific aspect of the entire Middle East snafu, and see beyond the inflamed rhetoric.  This second group doesn't express everything in Israel as moonlight and roses, but notices when rational solutions are attempted, some succeeding, some not so much.   What emerges from this display of sound bites, essentially, is that a positive outcome for all sides is being prevented by an irrational mindset. The title chosen, “Wish You Weren't Here”, is a reversal of one of Pink Flood’s presentations “Wish You Were Here”.  Does Mr. Halperin mean he wishes Waters weren't here, or is he saying that Waters wishes Jews weren't here......or anywhere.


So what exactly is this mindset for which Roger Waters is the poster child?  It is best displayed in an address he gave on December 13th 2012, at the General Assembly of the United Nations.  He was featured as part of the Bertrand Russell Tribunal on Palestine.  Clips of his appearance are shown in the film. The actual text is very revealing.  In his address to the U. N. he claims to represent “ civil society...” and “...wishes to shed some light on the predicament of a beleaguered people...”.  How was this ageing acid rock star selected to represent 'global civil society'?  Anyone?  Anyone?  He begins by quoting in part the mission of the United Nations: “The will of 'we the people of these United Nations' is that all our brothers and sisters should be free to live in self determination, that the oppressed should be released from their burden, by being given recourse to the law, and that the oppressors should be called to account by that same law.”  Lofty words and a laudable endeavour with which no sane person could argue.  But it is not Israel that is preventing these benefits from reaching Palestinian Arabs.  Well-intentioned people are looking in the wrong place, pushing at the wrong door, peering in the wrong closet.  Unfortunately in the process they are harming the people they want to help, causing the beleaguering to go on and on and on.


It is the Arab leaders who have it in their power to give self-determination to the Arab population, a power they won't relinquish. In the first place it was their leaders who ordered the Arabs to flee Palestine in 1947-48.  The brave ones who disobeyed are glad they did; they are Israeli citizens now with the same rights as Jewish Israelis. In the second place, Jordan occupied Palestine west of the Jordan River from 1948 until 1967. What do you suppose the Palestinian living conditions were like under Jordan?  Very similar to Palestinians living in Jordan today. No rights; no vote.  Unlike Arab citizens in the State of Israel.  Furthermore, Arab residents in that same area west of the Jordan River, which is now called the 'disputed territories', far from being under occupation by Israel, are governed by the Palestinian Authority.  This Palestinian Authority bears the sole responsibility for their well-being, and the PA leader Abu Mazen, also known as Abbas, is not elected.  Oh, he was, once, but his term has been over now for around twelve years.  Call an election so the Arab people can vote for someone else?  What, who, Abbas?  Can't afford to; he might lose control.  Israel has tried to negotiate with him, as he is the one ostensibly in charge, but he is very cagey and won't be pinned down where he might lose his power. Besides he and his cohorts don't want an Israel.  Period.  So any appearance of cooperation is a sham.


In his address to the U.N. (and on stage) Waters objects to Israel's security barrier, implying that a concrete wall surrounds the entire Arab population.  He must have had a specially arranged tour and/or based his address on circulated snapshots. Unwary tourists under the auspices of certain NGOs are often shown only carefully selected areas.  Actually the security barrier, about 65% completed so far, covers around 450 miles, and just 10% is solid wall, to prevent snipers on higher ground from killing commuters on the highway below.  The other 90% (of the 65%) is chain link fence. Furthermore Israeli courts insist on modifications where a peaceful community is inadvertently inconvenienced.  The fence is a brilliant concept, proven by the fact that, even unfinished, terrorist attacks have diminished dramatically.  Would-be perpetrators must attempt more circuitous routes.


Using the word apartheid in the same sentence as Israel (which of course he does in the address) is ridiculous, as anyone who has lived in an apartheid state can tell you.  It is an insult to South Africa.  In Israel there are Arabs in the Knesset, the Judiciary, academia, all the professions.  They sit on buses wherever they like, shop where they want, work at and study whatever they choose. Homosexual Arabs can come and go wherever they like in safety.  Women can wear what they like, drive cars, go to universities, have jobs, study any profession, walk alone on the streets without fear. Anyone, Israeli Arabs, territory Arabs, refugees, even family members of enemy leaders, receive excellent medical attention in Israeli hospitals. Maybe the meaning of apartheid needs to be more carefully explained.


Waters suggests to this august U.N. body, that they begin their examination of the history with the year 1967. (Beyond belief?  Google the text for yourself.) Is that the extent of his research?  Sorry, Mr. Waters, you need to go back farther than that.  How about going back to 164 B.C.E.?  Or 70 A.D.? Too much work? Then how about November 1947? Have you looked at Summer 2000? September 2008?  Each of these times, the Palestinian Arab leaders were offered a state, and they refused. Even looking at 1967, if you are honest, you will notice that Israel, having pushed back her attackers, waited in vain for cooperative overtures.  Actually, the extent of ignorance was quite embarrassing at this juncture. In an adolescent it might be amusing, but at Mr. Waters' age, and in light of his taking centre stage, it is appalling.


To read the entire text of Waters speech is to be totally nonplussed by the misinformation he expounds upon, and to be astonished at his insistence that black is white.  The main point of the Russell event, to  hamper Israel's economy via BDS, seriously harms the Arabs in the disputed territories.  The haters are blind to this fact.  Where do Waters and members of the U.N. General Assembly think their jobs come from?  Without industries founded and financed by Israeli entrepreneurs, they would not be able to provide livings for themselves and their families. This tremendous force that keeps people locked in ignorance, believing and spreading preposterous lies, can only be termed antisemitism, a virulent hatred of everything connected to the People of the Book. The foremost requirement for those truly wishing to promote peace between Arabs and Jews is to rigorously search for the truth behind the situation.  When the misleading narrative is blithely bandied about by hearsay, the evil only metastasizes.  Roger Waters is confused, and he comes by this confusion by believing the eloquent quotes on the Israel/Arab conundrum from people like Bertrand Russell and Desmond Tutu, erudite seeming, but having neglected due diligence about fertile crescent history.  In other words, they display bad mental hygiene.


The film was well attended, mostly by Zionists. The hope is they will be encouraged to arm themselves with the truth, and become advocates.  Israel bashing must stop!  Yes, it will take intellectual rigour; one liner rebuttals won't cut it.  As the film instructs, do the research, have a strategy, implement that strategy.  Diaspora Jews need to realize that they, also, are in a battle for existence.  Acceptance in North America, as it was in 30s Germany, is hanging by a thread.  Critique the State of Israel, yes, but only amongst ourselves, like in a family.

                                                                                                                          Winnipeg, October 2017


      The writer owns a tiny apartment in Jerusalem, Israel, where she lives and studies during the winter months.








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